A Biography of America
Contemporary History – Key Events
Energy Crisis begins
Three Mile Island nuclear accident
1979 - 1981
Iranian Hostage Crisis
AIDS first identified in U.S.
Fall of the Berlin Wall
Persian Gulf War
Unit 1 New World Encounters
American history moves from west to east, beginning with Ice Age migrations, through the corn civilizations of Middle America, to the explorations of Columbus, de Soto, and other Spaniards.
Unit 2 English Settlement
As the American character begins to take shape in the early seventeenth century, English settlements develop in New England and Virginia. Their personalities are dramatically different. Professor Miller explores the origins of values, cultures, and economies that have collided in the North and South throughout the American story.
Unit 3 Growth and Empire
Benjamin Franklin and Franklin's Philadelphia take center stage in this program. As the merchant class grows in the North, the economies of southern colonies are built on the shoulders of the slave trade. Professor Miller brings the American story to 1763 with the Peace of Paris and English dominance in America.
Unit 4 The Coming of Independence
Professor Maier tells the story of how the English-loving colonist transforms into the freedom-loving American rebel. The luminaries of the early days of the Republic -- Washington, Jefferson, Adams -- are featured in this program as they craft the Declaration of -- and wage the War for -- Independence.
Unit 5 A New System of Government
After the War for Independence, the struggle for a new system of government begins. Professor Maier looks at the creation of the Constitution of the United States. The Republic survives a series of threats to its union, and the program ends with the deaths of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson on the Fourth of July, 1826.
Unit 6 Westward Expansion
At the dawn of the 19th century, the size of the United States doubles with the Louisiana Purchase. The Appalachians are no longer the barrier to American migration west; the Mississippi River becomes the country's central artery; and Jefferson's vision of an Empire of Liberty begins to take shape. American historian Stephen Ambrose joins Professors Maier and Miller in examining the consequences of the Louisiana Purchase -- for the North, the South, and the history of the country.
Unit 7 The Rise of Capitalism
Individual enterprise merges with technological innovation to launch the Commercial Revolution -- the seedbed of American industry. The program features the ideas of Adam Smith, the efforts of entrepreneurs in New England and Chicago, the Lowell Mills Experiment, and the engineering feats involved in Chicago's early transformation from marsh to metropolis.
Unit 8 The Reform Impulse
The Industrial Revolution has its dark side, and the tumultuous events of the period touch off intense and often thrilling reform movements. Professor Masur presents the ideas and characters behind the Great Awakening, the abolitionist movement, the women's movement, and a powerful wave of religious fervor.
Unit 9 Slavery
While the North develops an industrial economy and culture, the South develops a slave culture and economy, and the great rift between the regions becomes unbreachable. Professor Masur looks at the human side of the history of the mid-1800s by sketching a portrait of the lives of slave and master.
Unit 10 The Coming of the Civil War
Simmering regional differences ignite an all-out crisis in the 1850s. Professor Martin teams with Professor Miller and historian Stephen Ambrose to chart the succession of incidents, from 'Bloody Kansas' to the shots on Fort Sumter, that inflame the conflict between North and South to the point of civil war.
Unit 11 The Civil War
As the Civil War rages, all eyes turn to Vicksburg, where limited war becomes total war. Professor Miller looks at the ferocity of the fighting, at Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and at the bitter legacy of the battle -- and the war.
Unit 12 Reconstruction
Professor Miller begins the program by evoking in word and picture the battlefield after the battle of Gettysburg. With the assassination of President Lincoln, one sad chapter of American history comes to a close. In the fatigue and cynicism of the Civil War's aftermath, Reconstructionism becomes a promise unfulfilled.
Unit 13 America at Its Centennial
As America celebrates its centennial, 5 million people descend on Philadelphia to celebrate America's technological achievements, but some of the early principles of the Republic remain unrealized. Professor Miller and his team of historians examine where America is in 1876 and discuss the question of race.
Unit 14 Industrial Supremacy
Steel and stockyards are featured in this program as the mighty engine of industrialism thunders forward at the end of the nineteenth century. Professor Miller continues the story of the American Industrial Revolution in New York and Chicago, looking at the lives of Andrew Carnegie, Gustavus Swift, and the countless workers in the packinghouse and on the factory floor.
Unit 15 The New City
Professor Miller explores the tension between the messy vitality of cities that grow on their own and those where orderly growth is planned. Chicago -- with Hull House, the World's Columbian Exposition, the new female workforce, the skyscraper, the department store, and unfettered capitalism -- is the place to watch a new world in the making at the turn of the century.
Unit 16 The West
Professor Scharff continues the story of Jefferson's Empire of Liberty. Railroads and ranchers, rabble-rousers and racists populate America's distant frontiers, and Native Americans are displaced from their homelands. Feminists gain a foothold in their fight for the right to vote, while farmers organize and the Populist Party appears on the American political landscape.
Unit 17 Capital and Labor
The making of money pits laborers against the forces of capital as the twentieth century opens. Professor Miller introduces the miner as the quintessential laborer of the period -- working under grinding conditions, organizing into unions, and making a stand against the reigning money man of the day, J. Pierpont Morgan.
Unit 18 TR and Wilson
Professor Brinkley compares the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- the Warrior and the Minister -- in the first decades of the twentieth century. Professor Miller discusses American socialism, Eugene Debs, international communism, and the roots of the Cold War with Professor Brinkley.
Unit 19 A Vital Progressivism
Professor Martin offers a fresh perspective on Progressivism, arguing that its spirit can be best seen in the daily struggles of ordinary people. In a discussion with Professors Scharff and Miller, the struggles of Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans are placed in the context of the traditional white Progressive movement.
Unit 20 The Twenties
The Roaring Twenties take to the road in Henry Ford's landscape-altering invention -- the Model T. Ford's moving assembly line, the emergence of a consumer culture, and the culmination of forces let loose by these entities in Los Angeles are all explored by Professor Miller.
Unit 21 FDR and the Depression
Professor Brinkley continues his story of twentieth century presidents with a profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Brinkley paints a picture of America during the Depression and chronicles some of Roosevelt's programmatic and personal efforts to help the country through its worst economic crisis. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is at FDR's side and, in many respects, ahead of him as the decade unfolds.
Unit 22 World War II
America is enveloped in total war, from mobilization on the home front to a scorching air war in Europe. Professor Miller's view of World War II is a personal essay on the morality of total war, and its effects on those who fought, died, and survived it, including members of his own family.
Unit 23 The Fifties
World War II is fought to its bitter end in the Pacific and the world lives with the legacy of its final moment: the atomic bomb. Professor Miller continues the story as veterans return from the war and create new lives for themselves in the '50s. The GI Bill, Levittown, civil rights, the Cold War, and rock 'n' roll are discussed.
Unit 24 The Sixties
Professor Scharff weaves the story of the Civil Rights movement with stories of the Vietnam War and Watergate to create a portrait of a decade. Lyndon Johnson emerges as a pivotal character, along with Stokely Carmichael, Fanny Lou Hamer, and other luminaries of the era.
Unit 25 Contemporary History
The entire team of historians joins Professor Miller in examining the last quarter of the twentieth century. A montage of events opens the program and sets the stage for a discussion of the period -- and of the difficulty of examining contemporary history with true historical perspective. Television critic John Leonard offers a footnote about the impact of television on the way we experience recent events.
Unit 26 The Redemptive Imagination
Storytelling is a relentless human urge and its power forges with memory to become the foundation of history. Novelists Charles Johnson (Middle Passage), Arthur Golden (Memoirs of a Geisha), and Esmeralda Santiago (America's Dream) join Professor Miller in discussing the intersection of history and story. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., closes the series with a reflection on the power of the human imagination.